Staying Positive Through an Exercise Setback

I’m excited for a fun discussion below, so let’s breeze through lunch!

I enjoyed quite a tasty midday meal that started with a bed of delicious fettuccine noodles.

Lots o' Pasta

Add a bunch of broccoli slaw and a heaping helping of Newman’s Own Sockarooni pasta sauce to the mix and you’ve got yourself one heck of a yummy noodle bowl!

Broccoli + Noodles + Sauce

Close Up

I inhaled that bad boy! I love pasta and red sauce oh-so-much. πŸ˜€

Staying Positive Through an Exercise Setback or Injury

Time for another reader’s request!

If you’ve been working out for a significant amount of time, chances are something has occurred in your life to cause you to experience an exercise set back. Maybe you sprained an ankle. Perhaps you pulled your hamstring. Whatever it is, experiencing a setback can make it hard to keep your head up while adjusting to the adversity you’re facing.

In the Words of Tupac, "Keep Ya Head Up!"

As someone who has overcome a setback or two (hip bursitis and most recently a bruised heel), here are my tips for maintaining a positive attitude through an injury or other setback:

  • See a Professional Doctor: If that little voice in your head is telling you to go see a doctor, listen. You know if you’re experiencing a small injury or a serious one that warrants the opinion and advice of an expert. Seeing a doctor soon after you experience an injury can help you understand what’s going on and begin the healing process with the help of a professional. They may provide you with a plan for recovery which will help you feel like you’re tackling your setback head on.
  • Seek a Second Opinion: When I had bursitis in my hip a couple of years ago, I found it very hard to remain positive. It hurt to run and it hurt to walk. I literally couldn’t even walk a quarter of a mile without experiencing severe pain in my hip. When I first visited the on-campus doctor at my college, they gave me steroids and basically told me to avoid anything physical. It wasn’t until I got a second opinion from a doctor much more familiar with sports-related injuries (he actually worked with the Tampa Bay Bucs), that I learned that my injury was completely treatable with lots and lots of stretching… no medication needed! He showed me various stretches I could do but also gave me the okay to do low-impact exercise (like the elliptical), which made me so happy.
  • Focus on What You Can Do: It’s so easy to harp on what we cannot do, but don’t forget how lucky you are to be able to do the things you can do. Though I was not allowed to run or take group exercise classes that required a lot of jumping when I was injured, I was able to swim, ride a bike, do the elliptical and also engage in some light strength training. All of these options are still wonderful ways to get your heart rate up. Some time away from your favorite activities will only make you love and appreciate them more once you are healed.

I Can't Run, But I Can Swim (and Look Like a FOOL!)

  • Look for Fitness in Everyday Life: Sometimes injuries prevent us from hitting the gym or pounding the pavement, but many times we’re still capable of enjoying every day athletic activities like biking around the neighborhood, swimming at the pool with friends or hittin’ the dance floor at a club (<– do this with caution πŸ˜‰ ). Don’t discount these as great workouts.

Dancin', Dancin', Dancin'


Canoeing (Can you tell Ryan did all the work?)

  • Vent and Be Angry: I can honestly tell you I cried to Ryan numerous times when I had bursitis in my hip and couldn’t even walk without pain. I was beyond frustrated and annoyed that my everyday routine was flipped upside down. It’s only natural to be upset and angry when adversity smacks you in the face. Be angry and be annoyed. Accept these feelings, but don’t dwell on them. Even though you may not be able to run, you are still able to enjoy other things in life, like your family and friends.
  • Use it as an Opportunity to Eat Better: If you can’t expend lots of energy in the gym, try putting some extra effort into your healthy eating. Use the time away from exercise as an excuse to get more creative in the kitchen and concentrate on creating delicious, healthy meals like French toast strips with raspberry filling.

French Toast Strips

Have you ever experienced an injury or setback that prevented you from enjoying your normal exercise routine? How did you handle it?


  1. says

    What a great–and timely–article. I’ve experienced some pretty major injuries in the past (compartment syndrome in my leg, concussions from soccer, broken fingers, sprained ankles, etc.) and I know how disappointing it can be to have to switch things up or watch from the sidelines. One thing I like to do is focus my energy on other things that I often don’t make as much time for, like reading and playing guitar. Focusing on other fun hobbies and activities takes me mind off what I can’t do with my body. I also agree about focusing on other sports/activities that are comfortable physically and less taxing, like swimming, is extremely helpful. Thanks for the great tips!


  2. Katie says

    My freshman year of college, I fell up the stairs and had to get stitches in the MIDDLE of my knee! Which meant I was unable to bend it for 2 weeks. (This happened on my birthday -no drinking involved- and right before spring break to Malibu, CA!!) I made sure to eat more vegetables and low-fat foods, and made it a point to ignore the provided shuttle to classes and would leave extra early to hobble my way to each class.


  3. says

    Well, its not an injury, but pregnancy keeps me from working out how I’m used to and doing the types of workouts I love. I have to remind myself that its only for a temporary period of time and I will eventually be able to do my favorite workouts again. It’s better to not risk more for the sake of pushing things. And love the tip about focus on what you CAN do. That helps a lot.


  4. says

    Great advice! Thankfully I’ve never experienced a serious injury that interfered with my normal activity. I could only imagine how frustrating it would be to have to go through that. But I agree that you should stay positive and focus on the positive things that you can do and look at it as an opportunity for you to explore new activities or hobbies.


  5. says

    When I was 14, I dislocated my patella and was off of it for six months when all was said and done. It was before I got serious about exercise, but I still feel it all the time and it’s discouraging. I think a GOOD doc is key- my dad is an orthopedic surgeon, and his advice has been invaluable! He always tells me that PAIN is different from DISCOMFORT. With old injuries, discomfort is something you just have to adjust to. Pain is your body telling you to stop!


  6. says

    Awesome article! About a year and a half ago, I finally got back on the fitness wagon. I hadn’t worked out (consistently) in months, so I didn’t take the time to work myself back up. I was on the elliptical for an hour a day. A couple weeks after this, I developed tendinitis in my left knee. I was destroyed and upset. I had finally gotten myself back in a rhythm, only to be torn down so quickly. I ended up dealing with the tendinitis for 5 long months. Honestly, it was horrible. I couldn’t go on the treadmill, I couldn’t go on the elliptical. I was so depressed. After doing some more research, I figured out that I did too much too quickly. After that, I starting doing more exercises like push-ups, wall-sits, etc. to make myself stronger. Thank goodness the tendinitis is long gone, and I’ve started incorporating more exercises into my fitness regime b/c of it. But I’m not going to lie, those 5 months were really rough.


  7. says

    i am actually in the middle of that right now with my back… i basically can’t do anything that puts stress on my lower back, which is basically everything, but i think the most important thing is to be positive when i can and not be afraid to vent if i need to!


  8. says

    I am actually going through an injury right now. Right after my first half marathon I started to feel pain in my knee so I visited the doctor and it turns out it is an IT Band issue. I’ve been off running for two months now and it kills me, but I’ve taken up spin class and yoga, which has turned out to be a great subsititue while I’m out from running!


  9. says

    Great post!

    I’m actually currently still battling an injury that has kept me (somewhat) sidelined for over a year. In April of 2009, I injured my hip by pushing it too hard, too fast. It ended up I had a labral tear (a tear of the cartilage in the hip joint). I was in so much pain all the time, it hurt to walk to class. It took over a year to get in for surgery (wait lists suck!). I had my surgery in May of this past year, so I am still recovering from that. The whole time, I was able to do upper body strength training, lower body light strength training, elliptical, bike, etc. I couldn’t do anything impact though. Me and the elliptical become very good friends during that year.

    So after that whole ramble, my point is, just like you said Julie, concentrate on what you CAN do. It is so frustrating when you think of what you can’t do.


  10. says

    I really like the “Be Angry” tip– seriously. It’s okay to be angry. Don’t deny those angry feelings, because they will most definitely turn into something worse.

    It’s okay to be angry, but remember to not let your anger consume you!


  11. says

    Right after I ran my first half marathon I injured my knee playing tennis. I couldn’t run for 5 months. I initially panicked because I thought I would gain tons of weight if I couldn’t run. But it turned out to be an amazing time – I gave my body what turned out to be a much needed break from running and really found peace with exercise and nutrition in general. I love your list though – wish I had taken the time to see a doctor! Thinking of doing that now before I commit to running a marathon. Thanks for the great tips!
    – J.


  12. says

    A few years ago I was training for my first half marathon and I tore my miniscus.. I was devasted.,. I ended up not running the half but you better bet when I finally got clearance to run again I signed right up for the Disney Princess and completed the entire race πŸ™‚


  13. says

    Ugh, yes. I’ve been dealing with an injury for six years. Yep, SIX YEARS. The best way to get through it is to do what you can. And to listen to doctor’s orders–even if that means stopping exercise until you’re healed.

    On another note, I wrote about this whole injury thing on Side of Sneakers’ blog yesterday. Anyone who’s ever had an injury might enjoy the laugh:


  14. says

    At the end of last year I got stuck on crutches for 2 weeks and was off of the leg as much as possible for another 6. It was miserable. But that is definitely when I started getting better about learning healthy cooking and portion control (as much as I hated/hate intuitive eating… lol).


  15. says

    I’ve never experienced a major injury that has set me back a lot, but this is really good information to hold on to if I ever do experience that. These tips are helpful with even minor injuries or discomfort. Sometimes minor discomfort can turn into a major problem if you don’t get it checked out!


  16. says

    I got very sick in high school for a few months and had to take some time off from competitive synchronized swimming. It was very hard, but made me appreciate my ability to do so normally! I actually went to therapy which really, really helped and made me interested in helping people in the same way πŸ™‚


  17. says

    I’ve never had an injury that’s prevented me from working out, but every now and then I get into a mind funk and just can’t push myself. It’s been a while though since that’s happened so knock would that it doesn’t happen anytime soon. Working out is such a rush that I get depressed when I go too long with out regular exercise.


  18. Carrie says

    Agreed, Ju, dancing is a workout….. I see you failed to include the rest of the crowd in our dancing picture?! haha What a great night πŸ™‚


  19. Amanda Davis says

    Thanks for the great advice…I’m currently working through some leg pain and taking a few days off which is really difficult for me but I’m working through it.


  20. says

    In college I played softball. Just as our season was starting I got in a car accident and ended up with a broken foot. It was the hardest thing ever to go through. Watching my team play and knowing there was no way I was going to get in the game was horrible. All I could do was support my team, try to stay positive and rest. It was nice to be able to slow down and concentrate on other things going on in my life. It ended up being a good break, but it was still torture that I couldn’t play!! The best thing that came out of it was that I was super motivated as soon as up and moving again.


  21. Diane says

    Perfect timing and great advice! I sprained my ankle last week and could finally run on it a little bit today. It was so frustrating to not be able to move and use my body they way I wanted to. (Can’t I burn some calories just by having the desire to exercise?!?)

    The positive is that I realized what a gift it is to be healthy and able to exercise. That’s great motivation to take care of myself.


  22. says

    I’m currently having hip issues right now just on one side. It has been acting up for about 2.5 months . I took two weeks off but it still hurts. I’m thinking I need to see a doctor but I have fears of doctors.


  23. says

    I couldn’t do a thing when I had plantar fascitis this summer. I was really bummed out! Luckily it didn’t last long. I’m allergic to chlorine, so I can’t swim in the pool at my gym. I did try and eat much healthier since I couldn’t do much.


  24. says

    I’m going through it right now, it’s horrible! I’ve been off running for months after developing serious runners knee after a marathon. My problem is I used to just go out the front door and run, and I find it more difficult to get the motivation get in my car and drive to the gym to do the elliptical/bike/swim. Just trying to get through it now though so I can run for years to come!


  25. says

    I was training for the Chicago Marathon this year (which was going to be my first marathon, first time in Chicago, right after my 26th birthday) and developed a stress reaction in my tibia — kind of like a stress fracture but without the fracture. I had to stop running for two months and have just gotten the OK to try running again. It’s been hard — I definitely felt sorry for myself for a while but got a positive attitude about it quickly, which I think helped the healing process. The injury introduced me to swimming and biking though, and I think once I’m back in running shape I’ll try for my first triathlon!

    By the way, I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m really enjoying it! πŸ™‚


  26. says

    I just found out today having caved and seen the physio that I have to give up running and extended walking for at least 2-3 weeks minimum due to a trapped nerve in my hip which is extending down my leg. This post has helped me so much (even though I am now in tears)… knowing others have been through the same helps. I can barely walk but the elliptical is fine as is the bike and planning on doing more strength work when the acute pain subsides a little too. Thank you!


  27. Lindsay says

    Wow, I just found this post and it has been SO helpful! Julie, I cannot even begin to thank you for your blog. Though not an injury, I’ve had a lot on my plate recently between finishing school, work, family affairs, etc. and my workout routine fell tragically to the wayside. I simply do not have the time anymore (and when I DO have the time, I’m usually too exhausted). Your blog has motivated me to high-tail my eating habits back on track and even to do the unthinkable – start running. I’m a total gym rat, but EVERYONE who knows me knows that I HATE running. I’ve tried over and over again to become a runner and I’ve never had success. Reading your blog has actually redirected my attitude towards running and now I look forward to leashing up my aussie-shepherd mix and hitting the road. I know she sure appreciates it ;). It’s been great for days where I actually feel like squeezing some exercise in but don’t have time for a trip to the gym.

    Regardless of all of that, this post in particular was a much-needed reminder that it’s not only okay, but sometimes necessary to take time off from the regular workout routine in order to focus on other important parts of our lives. As a person living with OCD, it’s a struggle to keep this in mind everyday. Of course, I’ve heard things like this from my loved ones, but it’s a much easier pill to swallow when it comes from someone who has the same passion for working out. Thank you!


  28. says

    Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles?

    I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. Nevertheless imagine if you added some great
    graphics or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images
    and video clips, this site could certainly be one of the very best in its niche.
    Amazing blog!


  29. Lindsay Craig says

    I remembered you had an injury similar to the one I’m having now and creeped deeeeep until I found this! I am currently suffering trochanteric bursitis (hip bursitis–I’m pre med I need to use the big fancy words when I canπŸ˜‰) and I missed out on our families backpacking trip this last weekend because of it. I cried on my way home from the lab this evening. But! Your words of encouragement made me feel so, so much better. As do all of your posts. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Julie. You are a beautiful soul and you’ve gotten me through more things than I can count. And I’ll add this one to the list when I can run again! Thank you, thank you!
    PS: sorry for creeping so hard, like 6 years hard!



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